For No Good Reason (Sony Pictures Classics, R)

film no-good-reason smIt’s a classic case of a director not trusting his material.

 

 

film no-good-reason

If you told me that you were burned out on Hunter S. Thompson movies, from the Alex Gibney documentary Gonzo to the Terry Gilliam Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, or smaller pictures such as The Rum Diary or Where the Buffalo Roam, I wouldn’t blame you; I am, too. But despite the way it looks on the surface, the new Charlie Paul–directed documentary For No Good Reason isn’t exactly a Hunter Thompson doc. This one is about Ralph Steadman, the splattery-painting artist whose work is inextricably linked with Thompson’s. If you see a few frames of the trailer and assume the film is about Thompson as opposed to Steadman, that’s just a testament to how closely associated one is with the other.

But is For No Good Reason really a picture about Steadman? As mentioned above, I feel like Thompson is milked pretty dry at the moment, culturally speaking, and Steadman is comparatively uncharted territory. And while stretches of For No Good Reason are strong, it doesn’t take long for it to devolve into the tropes of the Thompson films of which I’ve gotten so tired.

For example, Johnny Depp has much more screen time in this picture than he should. Like most of the rest of the world, I like Depp, but his omnipresence in Thompson literature is getting kind of annoying (although, yes, I understand that his factoring into this film will probably help it sell a few tickets). Easily the most interesting parts of For No Good Reason is when it is covering stuff I didn’t already know about Steadman. The bulk of the film depicts his relationship with Thompson, but the best parts are when we’re watching him paint, when we learn about his early years in England, and, most pleasingly, when we see some of his more modern political drawings, which remind us all why Steadman is such an iconic artist in the first place (not that we need reminding).

In the end, For No Good Reason feels like a good film that its director/producer/distributor didn’t trust. Because of this, they padded it to make it better conform with a type of film we already know, one that has been proven to have a market. It’s a classic case of a director not trusting his material. There is a good film in here, and I can’t fault Paul for devoting some time to Thompson, given how inextricably Steadman’s work is linked with his. Nonetheless, he would have done better had he tried harder to differentiate this movie from all of the other Thompson films. | Pete Timmermann

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